Monday, April 30, 2007

"Twenty Good Years" as NBC's annual fall guy

"Twenty Good Years," the NBC comedy that commericials on NBC advertised as the great new sitcom to come along pairing comedic legends Jeffery Tambour and John Lithgow, brought to you from the creators of Friends and the screenwriters of Will and Grace (or something like that) is not being renewed by NBC. Why am I not surprised? I was fairly sure Twenty Good Years would not make it through a first season when I saw the promotion for the fall season with its line-up of the two new comedies: the above-mentioned sitcom and 30 Rock.

Why? Because NBC does this practically every year. They always bring in some sitcom without a laugh track (i.e. 30 Rock, Scrubs, The Office, My Name is Earl) and one with a laugh track, and the one with the laugh track is pulled by the network and proclaimed as an embarrassment everyone at NBC Headquarters would like to forget about, before anyone's ever seen it. Before the show comes out, every person associated with the network talks about how great the show will be and how it's truly quality programming. People like Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence work into blog chats who lucky his show is to be alongside Twenty Good Years. Than once the ratings are low enough and they back the winner (this year it was 30 Rock), they discard the bad show out the window.

It's so disorienting: one minute Conan O'Brien is lavishing Matt LeBlanc about his new "hit" sitcom Joey during an interview and within a few months Conan is using the show as joke material for his opening monologue. The problem is that the network usually doesn't give the shows a chance to gel to the audience. Over on CBS, they practically never cancel anything. Mediocre shows like Yes, Dear and Still Standing stay on for years and a relatively decent show like Two and a Half Men and New Adventures of Old Christine are considered humongous hits when they are in fact nothing THAT special. The truth is that I prefer CBS's method. There are two things I want when I look for a sitcom: familiar/interesting characters and laughs. If a show is on long enough the characters start to get familiar which can easily replace interesting after a while and there are usually at least a few laughs per episode. So what happens is that when it's one in the afternoon and there's virtually nothing on TV but Yes, Dear and I feel like watching TV at one, then I'll turn on Yes, Dear. I don't particularly like it, but I can live with it and the more I watch it, the more I get accustomed to it and eventually enjoy it. So what I'm essentially saying is: keep something on the air long enough and the audience (at least from the experiences of this audience of one) will grow to it.

That rarely ever happens with NBC. They prop it up to such high expectations and expect it to perform to the level of their classic sitcoms like Friends and Seinfeld. NBC is all about quality and they have high standards but the truth is that some of these cancelled sitcoms like Happy Family, Good Morning Miami, Whoopi and Twenty Good Years are easily better than what CBS and ABC offer on the average. It also alienates viewers when programs are cancelled too quickly. Nothing is more frustrating to me as a viewer then when a show I'm liking gets cancelled.

Usually, these shows feature established stars like Jeffery Tambour and John Lithgow in 20 Good Years, John Laroquette and Christine Barinski in Happy Family, Whoopi Goldberg in Whoopi, Michael Richards and Tim Meadows in The Michael Richards Show, John Goodman in Father of the Pride, Nathan Lane in Encore! Encore!, Christina Applegate in Jessee, etc. The good news is that these short-lived failed sitcoms are treated as something equivalent to a stint in rehab and referenced to as an example of self-deprecating wit when the stars need to poke fun at themselves (aka "remember when I did Encore! Encore! hahaha).

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